Once the FARC has released the ten political hostages currently in captivity, the Colombian government and the guerrillas must take steps towards a peace agreement resulting in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the continent’s oldest insurgency.
Until the release of the policemen and soldiers there is very little reason to talk. The holding of hostages is an inhumane and despicable way of looking for leverage in a dispute. However, once the FARC has released these men, there should be nothing standing in the way of negotiations.
Both parties should know by now that they are never going to win this war on the battleground. From now on they can choose to either both lose or both win.
The guerrillas can only lose because they can only perpetuate their war by military actions that will further deteriorate their already pitiful lack of support among the Colombian population.
At the same time the Colombian government can only lose because the FARC’s hit-and-run attacks are heavy blows on the morale of the troops and the security of the Colombian people. There is no more territory to gain like there was ten years ago. Moreover, while the government is fighting the FARC in the south and east, even more brutal criminal gangs like the “Urabeños” and the “Rastrojos” are gaining strength in the north and west. The Colombian security forces need all the strength they have to combat drug trafficking.
Both can win by achieving what no government or guerrilla leader has achieved in the past: peace. The guerrillas will get certain socio-economic demands put on the political agenda and the government can spend the taxpayers’ money on the development of the country and the improving of the quality of life of its citizens.
There’s obviously a big discrepency between the public discourse of both parties and their actual intention. Being warring factions, neither the government nor the FARC would ever say what they mean or mean what they say while in conflict. That’s like playing poker with your cards wide open.
However, neither parties are stupid and it is becoming increasingly visible that both the government and FARC have begun acceding to conditions for peace talks imposed by the other. The FARC say it has banned kidnapping and will release its political hostages while the government has agreed to return stolen land to the rightful owners.
The next step is to either publicly or secretly open lines of communication, through which conditions for successful peace talks can be determined.
These lines of communication already exist and it’s not unthinkable that, even though this is contrary to the public discourse, this step already has been taken in secret to exchange demands.
Secret talks enable the parties to test the water, gain trust, diminish the risk of losing face and secure that once the parties come out of the peace closet, favorable conditions exist that can guarantee the eventual demobilization of Latin America’s oldest guerrilla movement and the reintegration of its fighters.
Because even though it feels and seems interminable, Colombia’s conflict will end as all conflicts all over the world have ended: a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of the country’s insurgency and its fighters.
Colombia, more than any other country in the world, is able to make this happen as it already has gone through this DDR process with the paramilitary organization AUC. The successes and failures of this particular process can actually contribute to it happening more successfully in the future. While it’s more than fair to criticise the paramilitary peace process, to state that it never should have taken place would be absurd.
So all in all, Colombia has never been more prepared for peace than it is today.
But what first needs to happen is the way we, civilians who have no interest at all in the war, change the way we think and focus on our own contribution to peace and reconciliation. We need to stop thinking about the FARC as animals and understand the organization’s hierarchy and the demographics of the organization’s fighters. We need to stop wanting them all dead.
I pointed out in a previous column that, despite atrocities, the Colombian army does not consist of murderers. For the same reason we must admit that the majority of FARC guerrillas are not in the organization to kill fellow Colombians and have not committed acts of terrorism.
The vast majority of fighters are young Colombian boys and girls who would have grown up normally had they not been forced into the conflict due to a complete lack of perspective. The same goes for the majority of the former paramilitaries or kids joining the urban gangs. You should see how improved education or more jobs could decimate the recruiting of minors by any illegal armed group.
It wouldn’t be realistic to think that the eventual disarmament of the FARC will be absolute. Some within the FARC are having too good a time with the money made from drug trafficking that they will not be receptive to socio-economic compromises. But if Colombia is able to dismantle the FARC and reintegrate the majority of fighters, what will remain is a much smaller drug trafficking organization. This organization will not be attacking the security forces, the country’s infrastructure or towns and can be dealt with like all the other DTOs, making the violence in Colombia a lot more easy to control.
So, what’s is going to be? Are we going to move forward or are we just going to continue sending other people’s children to war?